Education

Starr Ranch Education Programs in the News

Starr Ranch Field Ecology Programs

Field ecology is a branch of biology that focuses on the outdoor study of the relationships among animals, plants, and their environment. Our innovative education programs were created in 2001 by Research & Education Director, Dr. Sandy DeSimone. We have had great success using the facts and tools of ecological science to inspire a love of nature. Staff are biologists with graduate degrees and their research is integrated into our education programs. Minimum group size 6, maximum 150; ages 7 – adult. Most programs can be adjusted for any age and group. Public and home school students, scouts, families, religious groups, adults, and Audubon chapters visit the Ranch to have the unique experience of being the only group on 4000-acre Starr Ranch during their programs. Our oak-lined canyons, scrub-covered hills, and historic Ranch buildings offer an exceptional opportunity to experience “old California.” See our current programs and fees in Starr Ranch Field Ecology Programs Brochure. Watch our website home page and local newspapers for regularly scheduled programs or you can arrange for your choice of “Ecology Programs” or nature walks for groups of six or more on any day or evening we have available. Contact Sandy at 949-858-0309 or for information and reservations.

Current offerings are organized into five major program areas:

Ecology Programs (ages 7 – adult)

Starr Ranch biologists have created a series of “Ecology Programs,” 1 – 2 hour simulations of wildlife research. Programs such as “Evening Screech-Owl Survey,” “Cougars, Bobcats, and Coyotes,” and “Hawk Research” offer groups of all ages an opportunity to experience nature hands-on as wildlife biologists. For brief descriptions of our current Ecology Programs, see Ecology Programs Overview. Experience the scientific process at beautiful 4000-acre Starr Ranch during half day, full day, or overnight programs. Overnight groups camp for one or more nights while participating in day and evening Ecology Programs and nature walks. Scouts camp at the Ranch to fulfill badge requirements; home schoolers and high school groups set up their tents surrounded by oaks and sage-covered hills to have fun studying large mammals, creek insects, hawks, and more. Take advantage of our flexible scheduling and work with the education director (949-858-0309) to build day, evening, or overnight programs for your group.

Ranch Research (adults)

Adults participate in field research through classes and camps and as volunteers with ongoing scientific studies of wildlife and habitats. Week-end wildlife research camps for adults offer participants relaxation in the peace and beauty of the Ranch with no other groups around. They become wildlife biologists for a few days as our own scientists involve them in studies on songbirds, hawks, large mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians, and more.

Volunteer research assistants, trained by our biologists, help us with long-term projects. Currently staff biologists use volunteer assistants with these studies:

    Effects of Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration on Wildlife (small mammals and songbirds)Monitoring Over wintering Survival (MoSI)Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS)Stream Bioassessment

Watch Audubon chapter newsletters, local newspapers, the Friends of Starr Ranch newsletter, and our website for upcoming volunteer research opportunities and adult classes and camps.

Starr Ranch Junior Biologists (ages 8 – 16)

During our summer camps and spring programs, kids ages 8 – 16 join the Starr Ranch scientific team to experience how biologists study wild animals and their habitats. The spring program runs for four consecutive Saturdays or school days (for home schoolers) and focuses on a specific wildlife research project. SRJB Spring kids have located and mapped hawk nests and learned about the wildlife of oak woodlands through the live trap and release of small mammals, birds, invertebrates, and reptiles and amphibians. During summer camps, kids discover how much fun wildlife research can be as we gradually take them through the scientific process during three progressive week-long sessions. SRJB I kids explore native ecosystems and have fun with some of the techniques scientists use to study wildlife. In SRJB II, children participate in simulations of ecological research on animals and habitats as they identify simple research questions, learn techniques for answering questions, and collect data. SRJB III is an advanced program offered for older children ages 10 – 13, who camp at the Ranch and do a week long study of the animals and ecosystems introduced in SRJB II. Advanced Junior Biologists have examined creek macroinvertebrates and water chemistry, the relationship of weeds and wildlife, and animals of different habitats active during the day and night. At night, biologists show kids how to use a black light to search for scorpions or the call playback method to survey for owls. A summer camp-out also kicks off junior internships for ages 14 – 16, mentored by Ranch biologists, with focus on independent field research projects. Our junior interns are currently monitoring Western Screech-Owls in Bell Canyon and small mammals in restoration sites. Watch for SRJB publicity on the home page of our website, our Friends newsletter, and local newspapers.

Family Programs

We invite families to experience the excitement of wildlife biology in the beautiful surroundings of our canyons and hills. Biannual “Family Nature Workshops” on Saturdays are offered free for families who come to the Ranch to participate in workshops that include a sampling of our Ecology Programs, nature walks, and programs by guest biologists. During week-end family camps, kids and parents have fun together doing outdoor research with our biologists during day and evening programs. Aside from regularly scheduled programs, family groups of six or more can call Sandy at 949-858-0309 to arrange a daytime or overnight experience. Watch for publicity on fall and spring Family Nature Workshops and Family Wildlife Research Camps on our website home page, in local newspapers, and in Audubon chapter newsletters.

Starr Ranch Bird Observatory

Photo by Tom Sheffield

Avian research at the Ranch is integrated into education programs that stimulate an interest in birds and conservation of bird habitat. SRBO runs several songbird monitoring studies, assisted by volunteers trained by our ornithologist, that contribute to Starr Ranch land management and national conservation projects. Our ornithologist trains volunteer bird banders for songbird monitoring projects during intensive week-long camps. Other camps that focus on birds have included point count surveys, hawk banding and nest surveys, use of radio telemetry to study hawks, and evening owl call playback surveys.

Conservation

Protection

Some of the native habitats found in southern California are found no where else in the world and, unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. This is due mostly to poorly planned urban development that has failed to take into account the intrinsic value of wildland and wildlife. Since Starr Ranch contains some of these rare habitat types, it is necessary for us to control human access – no hunting, hiking, ATV, ORV, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed. Additionally, because Starr Ranch is used for various types of ecological research, we must limit general access. Sensitive study areas and equipment require a minimum amount of disturbance.

Environmental Action

Southern California has enormous environmental problems that have arisen largely from uncontrolled development. Due to a combination of unique climate and topography, much of the native habitat in the area is endemic. The manager at Starr Ranch devotes a large portion of his time to local conservation battles, in an effort to preserve the little that remains of native wildlands. Starr Ranch also serves as a focal point for environmental activism and networking as well as a meeting place for planning efforts that involve both developers and environmentalists.

Checklists

Vegetation at the Ranch is typical of lower elevational southern California: mosaics of grassland, oak woodland, riparian woodland, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. Wildlife species include fence lizards, canyon tree frogs, red-shouldered hawks and mountain lions. All native habitat and wildlife is becoming rare in southern California and the Ranch protects some especially endangered vegetation types such as coastal sage scrub and native perennial grassland as well as species such as many-stemmed dudleya (a plant) and the California gnatcatcher (a bird).
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Seasonal Positions

Upland
Field Assistants
Riparian
Riparian Invasive Species Control & Restoration Assistantship
Other Seasonal Positions
Seasonal Ornithologist
Summer Biologist-Educator Assistant

Upland Field Assistants

Description
Audubon California’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Trabuco Canyon, CA solicits applicants for positions as field assistants with our invasive species control and coastal sage scrub /needlegrass grassland restoration project. This is a research-based program to control Cynara cardunculus (artichoke thistle) and other invasive species without chemicals and restore to rare native habitat.  Must work well with people as part of a field crew (5) who work on mechanical and physical removal of artichoke thistle and all aspects of invasive species control and restoration including non-chemical control of other invasive species, native seed collection and planting, experimental tests of weed removal and restoration techniques, and quantitative monitoring. During fire season in the fall, field assistants will spend limited time helping with a fire watch on the Ranch. Experience in plant sampling in the field desirable. Enthusiasm for working outdoors.  Opportunity to live on our 4000-acre Sanctuary. Positions start in either October (1) or November (2) or January (1) and run six months from start dates.

Qualifications
College graduates with ecological, biological, or conservation background who seek weed control, restoration and research experience. Must be enthusiastic about outdoor physical work (i.e. invasive plant control).

To Apply
Positions are announced in the spring on Texas A & M Wildlife and Fisheries and Society for Conservation job boards.  Application is through a confidential Audubon career center. For information contact:  

Riparian Invasive Species Control & Restoration Assistantship

Description
Audubon’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Trabuco Canyon, CA solicits applicants for positions (2) as riparian invasive species control and restoration assistants. Our approach is research-based and non-chemical. Assistants will do physical control of exotics in two riparian corridors on Starr Ranch. Will recruit and publicize, train, and supervise “Weed Warrior” volunteers who help with control of exotics. Will re-sample long term passive riparian restoration plots. Will initiate or continue, under guidance of the Research and Education Director, experiments or trials to test methods for enhancing native stream vegetation. Will write protocols for major projects and final reports. Must be willing to be involved occasionally with our innovative education program, “Starr Ranch Field Ecology Programs” (see www.starr-ranch.org). Must have enthusiasm for working outdoors and physical work. Opportunity to live on our 4000- acre preserve. Positions (2) are for October – May.

Qualifications
College graduate with degree in a biology, ecology, or related discipline who seeks field experience in invasive species control, quantitative monitoring and, native vegetation enhancement. Experience in plant sampling in the field highly desirable.

To Apply
Positions are announced in the spring on Texas A & M Wildlife and Fisheries and Society for Conservation job boards.  Application is through a confidential Audubon career center. For information contact:  .

Seasonal Ornithologist

Description
Audubon California’s 4000-acre Starr Ranch Sanctuary in southeast Orange County, California solicits applicants for a position as Seasonal Ornithologist that extends from. mid October through early August. This position integrates long term songbird monitoring into education programs that involve kids and adults in applied avian research.

Late October – March:  responsibilities include supervision of volunteers who assist with songbird banding during winter migrant monitoring (Monitoring Overwintering Survival or “MoSI”).  Also will do data entry, data summary, and point counts.  Will instruct fall and winter Ecology Programs, 1-2 hour field research simulations that offer groups of all ages an opportunity to experience nature hands-on as wildlife biologists and plan and instruct a week-end adult bird research camp, possibly focusing on training banding volunteers. Will help coordinate the Christmas Bird Count for a local Audubon Chapter.

April – Early August:  will supervise volunteers who assist with long term songbird banding during breeding season (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship or “MAPS”).  Will conduct point counts and enter and summarize data. May help coordinate volunteers and conduct surveys of target songbirds of the rare habitat, coastal sage scrub. Will instruct spring Ecology Programs and also Starr Ranch Junior Biologists, spring and summer programs for kids ages 8 – 16, who join the Starr Ranch scientific team to experience how biologists study native animals and habitats.

Opportunity to do applied bird research that is integrated into Starr Ranch land management, conservation, and education programs.  We seek applicants who wish to contribute to wildland conservation through applied research as well as research-based education and who are enthusiastic, dedicated, organized, self-starting and thorough. Opportunity to live in a private cabin in an oak woodland on our 4000-acre Sanctuary.

Qualifications
Grad or undergrad degree in biology or ecology with strong ornithological background and experience.  Strong background in songbird banding, ageing, and sexing as well as other bird monitoring techniques essential.  Strong knowledge and interest in birds and bird watching and general natural history of animals and their habitats.  Some experience in education desirable but must have enthusiasm for working with kids, adults, and families.

To Apply 
Positions are announced in the spring on Texas A & M Wildlife and Fisheries and Society for Conservation job boards.  Application is through a confidential Audubon career center. For information contact:  

Summer Biologist-Educator Assistantship

Description
Audubon California’s 4000 acre Starr Ranch Sanctuary announces a summer education assistantship as part of our Starr Ranch Field Ecology Programs. Primary responsibility will be to assist instructors during our summer program for children, Starr Ranch Junior Biologists (SRJB), which emphasizes participation in ecological research. Kids participate in the scientific process through observation, exploration, and field research during a series of week long sessions. SRJB I kids explore native ecosystems and have fun with some of the techniques scientists use to study wildlife. In SRJB II, children participate in ecological research as they identify simple research questions. learn techniques for answering questions, and collect data. SRJB III is offered for older children, who camp at the Ranch and intensively study the animals and ecosystems introduced in SRJB II. Assistants must also be willing to do the work necessary to support the summer kids programs: lead nature walks; purchase, design and construct instructional materials; and help with setup and clean-up. Assistants might also be asked to help with other aspects of Ranch activities: maintenance, weed control, office work. The position runs from early June through early August.

Qualifications
College graduates in biology or ecology, with a strong interest in integrating ecological research into education. The applicant must enjoy working with children.

To Apply
Positions are announced in late winter on Texas A & M Wildlife and Fisheries and Society for Conservation job boards.  Application is through a confidential Audubon career center. For information contact:  .

History

Excerpt from A History of Starr Ranch Sanctuary, by Molly Blumer, Intern, Spring 1998

Overview

Starr Ranch LandscapeContinuity in Southern California’s Orange County landscape is a rare thing. Many native Orange Countians can remember a view, or a place that has been forever altered if not totally obliterated by suburban development. Few places remain as they appeared a hundred years ago. The National Audubon Society’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary is one of those landscapes, and this is the story of those who have lived and worked among these hills over the centuries.

The history behind the 4,000 acres that comprise the Starr Ranch Sanctuary crosses cultures and spans centuries. Roughly 8,000-1,200 years ago, the foothills and canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains were home to pre-historic Indians. Centuries later, in 1776, the area came under the authority of the Spanish Catholic Church. The Native American Indians encountered by the Padres were associated with the nearby missions and called the Luiseño and Juaneño tribes. Members of these tribes were relocated to the missions from their villages, including a winter camp located in the Sanctuary’s Upper Bell Canyon. Upon Mexican independence from Spain, vast tracts of land, which included the Sanctuary, were granted by the Mexican government to select families. These generous land grants gave rise to a small circle of property rich Dons, whose Rancho culture romanticized Mexico’s brief rule. In 1882 the Sanctuary land was sold by Don Juan Forster’s heirs and the pasture lands of Rancho Mission Viejo (historically spelled Rancho Misión Vieja), came under the management of the O’Neill’s, one of Orange County’s historic families. Upon California’s statehood, land not owned by ranchers and the Southern Pacific Railroad was declared public and parceled out by the Bureau of Land Management to homesteaders. Homestead families ran cattle, grew fruit crops and raised bees, sharing their land in these canyons with the grizzly bear and golden eagle. Relics of the Sanctuary’s past remain on the land today, including ancient mortar rocks for grinding acorns, wire cattle fences, and homestead foundations.

From 1927 to 1938, an independent oil man and millionaire by the name of Eugene Grant Starr purchased various parcels of Bell Canyon land from homesteaders and Rancho Mission Viejo. Gene’s 10,097 acre gentleman’s ranch served as a secluded and rustic hunting retreat for thirty-six years until his death in 1963. In 1973, a gift deed fulfilled the charitable intentions of The Eugene and Applin Starr Foundation when the estate entrusted 3,900 acres of the ranch to the stewardship of the National Audubon Society. The remaining ranch acreage was purchased by private housing developers and also the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Department for the creation of the 5,500 acre Caspers Regional Park. Today, the Sanctuary lies on the border between the Dove Canyon golfcourse community and…the 60,000 acre Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest and Caspers Regional Park.

Eugene Grant Starr

Eugene Grant StarrIn a 1926 letter advertising Belle Canyon, Mrs. Minnie Justis described her property as being “ideal for a country hunting club, as there are many excellent sites for a large hunting lodge and cabins and there is hunting of all kinds, including dove, quail, deer, rabbits, mountain lions, coyotes, coons, fox and everything of this nature. This is a good grain and cattle ranch, as well as other features that have been mentioned, and could be made into a self-supporting club, catering to high-class patrons and has been held for this purpose for a good many years.” Indeed, Eugene Starr, a wealthy oil man and Democrat from Los Angeles was just the kind of “high-class patron” and hunting enthusiast that she was referring to. He and his partner Jack Hare purchased 300 acres of property from the Joplin family in 1927, and an additional 676 acres of adjoining land from Mrs. Minnie Justice in 1929.

In November of 1938, Starr bought out his partner Jack Hare. That winter, catastrophic storms raged February 28- March 3, dropping 11 inches and killing 58 local people, but this deluge did not dissuade Starr from making additional purchases in the area. That year, he purchased 4,412 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo land from The Santa Margarita Company, and another adjoining 4,554 acres in 1941. His total holdings were reported to cover 10,097 acres, including the San Juan Canyon Hot Springs Resort.

The 20’s were an age of Western romanticism typified and exulted by the popular novels of Zane Grey. Railroad lines carried valley dwellers up into canyon side resorts replete with ballrooms and bungalows that were nestled among the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountains. Secluded retreats in the foothills such as the Starr Ranch were in vogue among the elite of Pasadena and Los Angeles. Nonetheless, Starr and Hare’s 1927 purchase of 300 acres for $30,000 from the Joplin family prompted an article in the Santa Ana Evening Register to speculate on the increasing value of Orange County land.

By 1950, much of Orange County was under agricultural production, and land was concentrated in the hands of a few major families. The 60,000 acre Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest covered the northern part of the county while the southern portion was dominated by ranchers Irvine, O’Neill, Reeves, and Moulton, whose combined Orange County properties totaled 165,000 acres. Starr’s considerable wealth and 10,097 acres set him among the ranks of these major landowners but unlike these commercial ranchers, Gene Starr used his property purely for recreation and seclusion…

Vaqueros Branding Cattle c.1900Ranch managers were entrusted by Gene to tend to the cattle, farm animals, groves and fields, and look after the ranch buildings in his absence. Mr. Curt Preusker was the main ranch manager for Starr from 1927 to 1963…

Mr. and Mrs. Preusker lived on the ranch for thirty-six years, and were present at the time when Audubon became steward of the property. In their time here they saw Starr Ranch change from a secluded get-away to a wildlife sanctuary bordered by the Rancho Santa Margarita residential community. They loved the Starr ranch dearly and are remembered for their commitment and appreciation of this land…

The National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary is named after Eugene Grant Starr, born February 22, -1889 in Tucson, AZ. He died a multi-millionaire at the age of 75 on August 6, 1963, leaving few records to document his considerable success and presumably no knowledge of what would become of his ranch property. He had no heirs and was survived by his brother Richard, and wife, Applin Starr.

In 1966, Mrs. Applin Starr died, three years after her husband Gene. She and her husband had organized the Eugene and Applin Starr Foundation. The charitable intentions of the Starr’s were fulfilled in May of 1973, when the Board of the Eugene and Applin Starr Foundation, co-chaired by Trustees Mr. John E. Clay, Mrs. June Eddy, and Wayne R. Hackett, resolved to convey a 3,900 acre Gift Deed to the National Audubon Society. The Gift Deed was accepted by the Audubon Society under the direction of “Agee” Shelton. The southern 5,500 acres of the Starr Ranch estate would be sold by the foundation in 1974, for $4.4 million dollars under the leadership of Ron Casper. This purchase prompted the creation of Caspers Regional Park, which is managed by the County Parks, Beaches and Harbors Department. [Finally, the remaining 873 acres were sold privately and are now the Dove Canyon development.]

Starr Ranch Sanctuary

Native AmericansThe land that had once been a Native American Indian winter camp, a pasture for a famous Don, homesteads for prominent pioneers, and part of Rancho Mission Viejo, briefly came into the hands of an oil millionaire, and narrowly escaped its fate as a motorcycle race course, to finally come into the care of the National Audubon Society. National Audubon Society Sanctuaries are often run by resident land managers who are responsible for the care of the land and its restoration if appropriate. The Starr Ranch Sanctuary was established in 1973, and Paul and Helen Colburn served briefly as the first interim Audubon caretakers. From 1973 to 1977, Norman and Bev McIntosh left their positions as managers of Audubon’s Richardson Bay Sanctuary to guide Starr Ranch through its first years… During these years, professor Charlie Collins initiated the first scientific research at the Sanctuary. His senior and masters students documented the flora and fauna characteristic of the area, and established a record for future research.

During these first years, research at the Sanctuary was minimal due to access problems. Mr. Jim Davis, who still owned the majority of the land he eventually sold to the Dove Canyon developers, often denied access to the Sanctuary through his property. A rough road that connects the Sanctuary to the Ortega Highway, through Caspers Park was relied upon for access. The road parallels Bell Canyon Creek and is often impassable, which forced researchers to hike into the Sanctuary.

The McIntosh’s were succeeded by Jeffrey Froke, his wife Martha and son Ben. Jeff managed the Sanctuary from 1978-1988. In 1985, Pete DeSimone came to the Sanctuary to work as assistant manager, and concentrated his efforts on the remodeling and restoration of the ranch buildings. Upon Jeff’s departure in 1988, Pete became Sanctuary Manager and took up the hotly contested struggle over land use and development that fueled the Orange County boom years in the 1980’s. As an Audubon manager and conservationist, keenly aware of the value of Southern California’s unique habitats, such as the coastal sage scrub, he voiced scientifically based arguments for the preservation and sustainable development of open lands in Orange County.

Today, Pete is an important participant in the California Natural Communities Conservation Program, which was implemented to plan for regional multi-species and multi-habitat protection. Sandy DeSimone works full-time at the Sanctuary as director of Research and Education. She conducted her thesis and dissertation research here and has published papers on the endangered coastal sage scrub. Her scientific study of the artichoke thistle (Cynara cardunculus), which has invaded the Sanctuary, is a valuable contribution to the literature on sustainable approaches to large scale weed abatement.

Long-time researchers who have conducted their studies at the Sanctuary include Dave Bontrager, Peter Bloom, and Mary Jo Elpers. Dave Bontrager is an authority on the California Gnatcatcher, a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This bird prefers the coastal sage scrub habitat, which is protected within the Sanctuary, but rapidly dwindling elsewhere due to development pressures. Pete Bloom conducted the first raptor surveys and Barn Owl banding projects at the Sanctuary with assistance from Mike McCrary. Mr. Bloom continues to band raptor chicks at Starr Ranch, and small, public groups are invited to witness the work of field biology and learn about raptors on banding field trips. Mary Jo Elpers has conducted important Scrub Jay research here since 1980, and has cultivated an intimate expertise on this raucous bird through her extensive field work.

Over the years, hard work from volunteers and managers has made rustic Starr Ranch a well-kept and accommodating research station. In recognition of the need for public access to Orange County native habitat, a gradual increase in public programs is planned for the Sanctuary, but public access is limited in an effort to preserve its integrity as a scientific research station.

Research

Starr Ranch has operated as a preserve of southern California wildlands since 1973. Our 4000 acres encompass the unique mosaics of Mediterranean climate habitats that were once, before the spread of urbanization, typical of southern Californian landscapes: coastal sage scrubgrasslands (native perennial bunchgrass and exotic annual), oak woodland, chaparral, and riparian woodland.  Until 2001, researchers on the Ranch came from universities and agencies all over the country.  Since the inception of our innovative educational offerings, Starr Ranch Field Ecology Programs, in 2001, research has shifted to staff studies that contribute to Starr Ranch conservation and land management issues.  Staff biologists have not only worked on projects that contribute to protection and restoration of the unique habitat mosaics at the Ranch but also have integrated their research into our education programs to provide both simulated and actual involvement in hands-on wildlife biology.

streamAt Starr Ranch, staff involvement in research applied to land management offers a multidisciplinary approach to meet the needs and solve the problems of Starr Ranch wildlands:  exotic species invasions, restoration and enhancement of rare habitats, long term monitoring of populations of native wildlife, urban impacts, climate change effects.  We aim to serve as a model of efficient, rigorous (i.e. science-based), and sustainable management and conservation practices for southern California ecosystems in the face of climate change.

Current staff research and initiation dates:

Our songbird monitoring projects, MAPS and MoSI, engage volunteer bird banders trained at Starr Ranch.  Bird monitoring is integrated into public outreach as an Ecology Program(Songbird Monitoring:  Catch and Release) and as classes and camps to train the volunteers. Our Stream Bioassessment study also utilizes volunteers and assesses water quality of our main riparian corridor, Bell Creek, through macroinvertebrate sampling and water chemistry.  The study is integrated into our Ecology Programs as Stream Biosurvey and Stream Water Chemistry, which use the same sampling protocols as in the actual research.  Both kids and adults delight in seeing the amazing creek invertebrates under microscopes that our biologists set up streamside.  Volunteers attend a class each season for training to do the actual bioassessment research.

We invite you to try your hand at being a wildlife biologist during one of our Ecology Programsadult classes and camps, or as a volunteer with one of our studies.

We also welcome university and agency research at Starr Ranch. Contact Dr. Sandy DeSimone () at 949-858-0309 for more information. For research guidelines, please click here.

researcherUniversity and Agency Research Projects at Starr Ranch

Researcher(s), (Research Affiliation) Initiation date and Research

Bloom, Pete (Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology) 1973 – Raptor behavior and dynamics

Chiang, Sophie (Cal State Fullerton)  2001 – Cooper’s Hawk home range and habitat use during the breeding season in urban versus natural environments

Chu, Miyoko (University of California, Berkeley) 1996 – Ecology and social behavior of Phainopepla nitens

Clarke, Laurie (California State UniversityFullerton2001 – Pollination ecology of artichoke thistle: density effect and impacts to native species

DeSimone, Dr. Sandy (San Diego State/UC, Davis1993 – Shrub population dynamics in unburned California coastal sage scrub and adjacent grassland

Elpers, Mary Jo (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Reno1980 – Scrub-Jay population dynamics

Fisher, Dr. Robert (San Diego State University1995 – Reptiles and amphibians of coastal sage scrubresearcher with microphone

Gill, Dr. Dave (California State UniversityFullerton)  1992 – Physiological studies of Salvia mellifera and S. apiana

Goerrissen, Jan (University of California, Davis) 2002 – Habitat associations of grassland birds in native and exotic California grasslands

Keeley, Dr. Jon (USGS, Sequoia-Kings Canyon1994 – Post-fire recovery in coastal sage scrub and chaparral

Kendall, Curtis (San Diego State University1995 – Behavioral response of small mammals to Sherman XLKR and Stoddard live-capture traps

McCarthy, Heather. (University of CaliforniaIrvine)  2007.  Effects of trees on urban environments

Remington, Stephanie (Cal Poly, Pomona1996 – Foraging, habitat, and diet of forest bat species

Schueller, Sheila (University of Michigan1998 – California Channel Island vs. mainland pollination of two hummingbird-visited plants; native Epilobium canum and non-native invasive Nicotiana glauca

Semple, Katy (University of CaliforniaLos Angeles1999 – The relationship between the variance in reproductive success and plumage color in Scrub-Jays: a comparative approach

Vogelsang, Keith M (University of CaliforniaIrvine1998 – Community diversity and composition: mechanisms of resistance to invasion by weedy exotic species

About Us

Mission Statement

Our mission is to offer innovative approaches to land management and environmental education that will influence the way Southern California citizens appreciate, conserve, and manage wildlands.  We seek to instill a love of nature through education programs that involve people of all ages in wildlife research and to provide a model of rigorous, sustainable land management through applied research.

Location

Starr Ranch Sanctuary is a 4,000 acre preserve owned and operated by the National Audubon Society. It is located in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains in the mild and semiarid Mediterranean climate of southeastern Orange County, California, approximately 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The Ranch lies in unincorporated Orange County and is bordered by the Cleveland National Forest on the north and east, the Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park on the south and the developments of Dove Canyon and Coto de Caza on the west. The larger community of Rancho Santa Margarita is 3 miles northwest of the Sanctuary, and the city of San Juan Capistrano is 10 miles to the southwest.

Conservation

Some of the native habitats found in southern California are found no where else in the world and, unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. This is due mostly to poorly planned urban development that has failed to take into account the intrinsic value of wildland and wildlife. Since Starr Ranch contains some of these rare habitat types, it is necessary for us to control human access – no hunting, hiking, ATV, ORV, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed. Additionally, because Starr Ranch is used for various types of ecological research, we must limit general access. Sensitive study areas and equipment require a minimum amount of disturbance.

Environmental Action

Southern California has enormous environmental problems that have arisen largely from uncontrolled development. Due to a combination of unique climate and topography, much of the native habitat in the area is endemic. The manager at Starr Ranch devotes a large portion of his time to local conservation battles, in an effort to preserve the little that remains of native wildlands. Starr Ranch also serves as a focal point for environmental activism and networking as well as a meeting place for planning efforts that involve both developers and environmentalists.

Personnel

Starr Ranch is staffed by

Manager, Pete DeSimone ()
Director of Research and Education, Sandy DeSimone ();
Field Supervisor, Matt Skarie ( );